A pilot spectroscopy study of adversity in adolescents

A. Irem Sonmez, Charles P. Lewis, John D. Port, Arjun P. Athreya, Doo Sop Choi, Michael J. Zaccariello, Julia Shekunov, Caren J. Blacker, Paul E. Croarkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Childhood adversity is a global health problem affecting 25–50% of children worldwide. Few prior studies have examined the underlying neurochemistry of adversity in adolescents. This cross-sectional study examined spectroscopic markers of trauma in a cohort of adolescents with major depressive disorder (MDD) and healthy controls. We hypothesized that historical adversity would have a negative relationship with spectroscopic measures of glutamate metabolites in anterior cingulate cortex. Methods: Adolescent participants (aged 13–21) underwent a semi-structured diagnostic interview and clinical assessment, which included the self-report Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), a 28-item assessment of childhood adversity. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) scans at 3 Tesla of an anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) voxel (8 cm3) encompassing both hemispheres were collected using a 2-dimensional J-averaged sequence to assess N-acetylaspartate (NAA), Glx (glutamate+glutamine) and [NAA]/[Glx] concentrations. Generalized linear models assessed the relationships between CTQ scores and metabolite levels in ACC. Results: Thirty-nine participants (17 healthy controls, 22 depressed participants) underwent 1H-MRS and completed the CTQ measures. There were decrements in [NAA]/[Glx] ratio in the ACC of participants with childhood adversity while no significant relationship between CTQ total score and any of the ACC metabolites was found in the combined sample. Exploratory results revealed a positive association between Glx levels and CTQ scores in depressed participants. Conversely the [NAA]/[Glx] ratio had a negative association with total CTQ scores in the depressed participants. Emotional Abuse Scale showed a significant negative relationship with [NAA]/[Glx] ratio in the combined sample when adjusted for depression severity. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that childhood adversity may impact brain neurochemical profiles. Further longitudinal studies should examine neurochemical correlates of childhood adversity throughout development and in populations with other psychiatric disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100043
JournalBiomarkers in Neuropsychiatry
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • ACC
  • Adolescent
  • Anterior cingulate
  • Depression
  • Glutamate
  • H-MRS
  • NAA
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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